Exam exemption policies return

As another semester came to an end, so too did another week of exams. 

However, teacher-made exams looked different this year than in recent years past because the Durham Board of Education restored the district’s pre-COVID exam exemption policy. 

In the wake of academic chaos after the pandemic, Durham Public Schools made the decision to not count any absences towards teacher-made exam exemptions in the 2021-2022 school year. This meant that if a student had an A or B in a class by the end of the semester, they would be exempt from the teacher-made exam, despite the number of absences they had.

This year, the school board made the decision to retract that policy. Schools within the district are now, once again, asked to oblige by the normal exam exemption policy.

According to page 22 of the Riverside High School Parent and Student Handbook, the policy is as follows:

“High school students may be exempt from their non-EOC/non-CTE state final exams if they meet one of the following conditions:

For 90-Day Course-

  • Have an A average and no more than three absences
  • Have a B average and no more than two absences

For a 180-day course-

  • Have an A average and no more than six absences
  • Have a B average and no more than four absences”

The Handbook also notes that any absences count towards this policy, whether they are excused or not, aside from absences that are considered school sponsored field trips, school approved activities, and religious holidays. 

Riverside’s testing coordinator, Myhshia Reeves, shared additional exceptions in a Jan 4 interview with The Pirates’ Hook.

“Things like college visits won’t count against you,” Reeves says. “The day the buses weren’t working, that kind of thing won’t count against you.”

Also stated in the Handbook, every three unexcused tardies in a class will count as an absence and will contribute to the exam exemption policy. However, the policy is left up to teacher discretion and wasn’t strictly enforced. 

“Nobody pays attention to that,” Reeves laughed. “Teachers don’t do that.”

While many students have strong opinions about the reinstatement of this policy, teachers do, too. 

“I think it’s silly,” says one Riverside teacher, who asked to remain anonymous. “Students still get sick. I don’t want them in my classroom when they are sick. But now there’s…pressure to be [on campus], even when you are sick.”

This was also a concern for students. 

Another prominent complaint is that student’s shouldn’t be penalized for having to go to the doctor, the dentist or the DMV. 

According to Assistant Principal Will Okun, there has been pushback from teachers, students, and parents regarding the reinstated policy, but it’s not up to Riverside’s leadership to change it. 

“[The school] just has to do what the board says, whether people agree with it or not.” Okun said. “And…the board has their reasons for certain decisions. People forget that they want to do what’s best.”

Some teachers, however, are not so worried about aligning with this policy. Social studies teacher Janet Heape allows her students to present a final project in replacement of a required final exam. English teacher Mira Prater has conversations with students who have too many absences and allows hard workers to still be exempt. Math teacher Christopher Crowl requires every student in his AP Statistics class to take his final exam, but only allows it to affect your grade if it improves it. 

Reeves also noted why this policy came back in the first place. 

“They got rid of [the absence policy] with Covid and everything,” said Ms. Reeves. “I think it’s different now that people know how to manage it all better.”

However, in the fall of 2022, Covid cases in Durham were still a challenge, along with strong new variants of the flu and common colds. Students are now feeling pressured to come to school when sick in order to avoid having to take an exam, which can put their peers and teachers at risk. 

“Again, it’s not a Riverside decision,” said Okun. “It’s a DPS Board policy.”

“It’s interesting to see grades and absences this year in comparison to last year,” said Reeves. “Very different all around. Priorities and motivations have changed for everyone.”

“Students are upset,” said another teacher who asked to remain anonymous. “[The teachers] see that. It’s a lot of added… pressure for kids who are already trying their best.”

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